I’m 27 weeks pregnant. 27 weeks!
Just look at this big ole beautiful baby belly, will you? Today we’re going to talk about this belly, this momma, and iron deficiency during pregnancy. En route, we’ll talk about everything from steak to poop, so keep reading!
The 27 Week Bumpdate
The honest to goodness truth is that at 27 weeks, I feel absolutely, plainly horrible. I caught some sort of a cold in late December that has proven impossible to shake, and it’s left me tired with a headache, a cough, congestion, and a really poor appetite.
My workouts? Yeah, right. For the last two weeks, it’s been all I can do to manage my daily life responsibilities (caring for Small Shaw, doing client work, researching for our upcoming move, and doing housework).
I’m walking around in a haze.
I get winded easily with just a little exertion.
Not all of this is because of my head cold, though. These are also classic symptoms of iron deficiency.
Ladies and gentleman, I publicly announce that I, MilliGFunk, am neither pumping iron nor eating enough of it right now. I am iron deficient.
Here’s what my second trimester has taught me about nutrition — and specifically about iron — in pregnancy. For good measure, I’ll intersperse some pictures of my baby boy belly throughout this post. Inform (with nutritional information) and entertain (with pictures), right? Right.
Here we go…
Why You Need Iron
Iron is one of the many vitamins and minerals that your body needs for a healthy pregnancy. Iron helps your body to move oxygen through your blood and to your muscles. It also helps to care for your cartilage and ligaments.
When you’re pregnant, your blood volume increases by 50%, and your dietary needs for iron increase proportionally. Iron doesn’t just support your own body during pregnancy, though. It supports your baby and the placenta, too.
Learn more about iron and pregnancy on FittaMamma.com!
Good sources of Iron
As with any vitamin or mineral, it’s best to try to meet your daily intake through whole foods, rather than through supplements, vitamins, or fortified foods.
Some of the whole foods that have the most iron are meats, eggs, poultry, and fish. You can also get iron from leafy green vegetables, nuts, and dried fruits, although it’s harder for your body to absorb the iron from those plant and legume sources than it is from meats.
Fun fact: Iron found in meets is called haem iron, while iron from plant sources is called non-haem iron!
If you’re either vegetarian or you’re like me, and just have a hard time eating meat when you’re pregnant, you should try to eat lots of dark leafy greens, raisins, apricots, and prunes.
Learn more about the vitamins and minerals your body needs during pregnancy on FittaMamma.com!
One of the things I’ve learned during this pregnancy is that beets are a good source of iron. Who knew? Here are a few recipes you can try from FittaMamma that incorporate beets and/or beet juice:
Beetroot Hummus (This one just looks fascinating to me. At some point, I’m going to have to try it!)
How Your Body Absorbs Iron
I use SparkPeople.com’s nutrition tracker tool to track my daily nutritional and caloric intake a few times each month. I don’t use it every day; just once every week or two to make sure I’m still more or less on track with my body’s overall pregnancy nutrition and calorie needs.
If you use a similar nutrition tracking tool, you might be deceived by your own iron intake. Many fortified foods like cereals and whole grain breads include iron. Your prenatal vitamins might also include iron (not all do). As a result, your macronutrient count in your tracker might show that you’re achieving or even exceeding your daily iron needs.
Here’s what gets tricky though: Just because you’re consuming enough iron, that doesn’t mean your body is actually absorbing the iron. Too much dairy, caffeine, or even the tannins found in tea can reduce your body’s ability to absorb the iron you need.
Case in point: I’m a coffee drinker. Specifically, I’m the kind of coffee drinker who likes some coffee with my milk in the morning. If I take an iron supplement or eat iron-fortified cereal for breakfast, I’m mixing my iron intake with quite a bit of dairy and a little bit of caffeine.
One of my favorite breakfast cereals is Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats. They contain 91% of my percentage daily values of iron (based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet), but if I eat my Mini-Wheats with milk and morning coffee, my body probably isn’t going to absorb the 91% of its percentage daily values of iron that the cereal offers (source).
How to Absorb More Iron
So if caffeine, tannins, and dairy can restrict iron absorption, what can you do to absorb more iron from the foods you eat?
Iron and vitamin C are buddies, so if you really want to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet, don’t just count your iron intake — consume your iron with vitamin C. Have a glass of juice or an orange (or kiwi, mmm!) with your supplement, and wait awhile before you drink anything caffeinated or eat or drink dairy.
The Downside of Iron: Constipation
If you’re easily embarrassed by bodily functions, just skip this section, okay? Jump safely on down to What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Iron? where we don’t talk about anything related to your bathroom habits.
Side note: My dad’s a wastewater engineer, so waste has never really been an embarrassing thing for me to talk about. It just comes with the territory when your dad provides for the family by building wastewater and toxic waste treatment plants! 🙂
Me and my dad, being silly in Germany during my first pregnancy in 2013. I love you, Dad!
Okay, now that it’s just us less bashful ladies in the room, let’s talk about poop. Or, if you’re like the most other pregnant women, your complete and utter inability to do the deed when you’re pregnant. Pregnancy constipation is so, so miserable.
Can I get an amen?
When you’re pregnant, your body produces more progesterone than it does when you’re not pregnant. That progesterone relaxes the muscles in your digestive system, slowing everything down.
Drinking plenty of water and eating fiber-rich foods helps prevent pregnancy constipation. Iron, on the other hand, can make constipation worse. That’s why some prenatal vitamins omit iron altogether: some women pretty much stop going number 2 when they have iron in their diet and in their vitamins.
Read more about dietary fiber in pregnancy on FittaMamma.com!
For many women, constipation is such an uncomfortable situation that the iron in prenatal vitamins is just too much for their bodies. In that case, it’s better to have iron-free prenatal, and to look for iron in whole food sources.
Like so many other women, I chose an iron-free prenatal and tried to get enough iron in my diet. Either I wasn’t eating enough iron to begin with, or my love of dairy (and my daily cup of Joe) were blocking my body from absorbing it. Meh.
What Happens When You Have an Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy?
When your body is iron deficient, your blood has a harder time getting oxygen to your muscles. This can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, and a feeling of fatigue. Other symptoms include feeling weak, looking pale, and the craving to eat things like clay, dirt, or ice.
In extreme cases, iron deficiency in pregnancy is linked to premature birth and low birth weight in babies. Generally speaking, because iron deficiency makes it harder for your body to pump oxygen through your blood, your heart has to work harder than it should in order to do normal tasks.
Learn more about Iron Deficiency Anemia on the Mayo Clinic’s website.
For active mommas-to-be, iron deficiency can be frustrating and discouraging. Despite having stayed active through your pregnancy, you might suddenly have very real difficulty climbing stairs, doing any sort of cardio workout, or lifting weights.
I know, because I’m there right now:
Every action leaves me feeling drained.
A single flight of steps leaves me winded.
I have blue-ish bags beneath my eyes.
Do you remember last week’s pictures???
A Doubly-Weakened Immune System
During pregnancy, your immune system is already weakened, making it easier to get sick and stay sick. My own pregnancy experiences have taught me that once I get sick (when I’m pregnant) it takes my body a lot longer to fight whatever I’m sick with.
According to IronMatters.com, iron deficiency can also weaken your immune system, making it even harder for your body to fight off infection. So basically, if you’re pregnant and iron deficient, you’ve got a doubly-weakened immune system.
The Bottom Line on Pregnancy & Iron
So here’s the bottom line: If you want to have an active pregnancy, you don’t want to wind up iron deficient. It’ll affect how you feel and how well you’re able to work out, but worse yet, it could potentially have a pretty negative effect on your baby.
Pay attention not just to how much iron you’re eating, but to what foods it’s coming from: Plant-based and legume-based iron isn’t absorbed as easily as meat-based iron is.
Also, be attentive to what foods and drinks you mix your iron intake (or supplements) with. If you want those iron supplements to be effective, take them with a glass of orange juice not a glass of milk, and steer clear of caffeine in the hours before and after eating iron-rich foods.
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Pregnancy Workout Clothes for Active Mommas
Do you like my cute pregnancy workout clothes? I’m wearing FittaMamma’s Pregnancy Yoga Top in light pink, and their FittaSupport Maternity Fitness Capris. Shop for supportive pregnancy fitness tops, bottoms, and gift packs on Fittamamma.com!
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by FittaMamma, who has graciously outfitted me with maternity activewear for my active pregnancy. FittaMamma supports active mammas by offering exercise tips, recipes, and maternity activewear that holds and supports your baby bump!